OpinionsEnvironment ConnectionHidden benefits of marine reserves

Hidden benefits of marine reserves

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In our material world, things are perceived as real when they are seen or felt with our senses.

This is especially true of scientific predictions of natural events. We faced this difficulty when we set up the program of marine protected areas way back in the 1970s and 1980s.

At that time, we had preliminary information that protection results in the increase of fish abundance and biomass after few years of protection.

From this information, it was easier and logical to predict that fishing communities would benefit from increased fish catches, following protection through what is known as adult fish spillover.

We also predicted that as a consequence of improved marine biodiversity, marine reserves would attract tourists who are able to pay user fees, thus, enhancing livelihood sources for coastal communities.

We all know that both predictions, which have been included in our papers published in the decades 1970s and 1980s, have actually happened.

The only prediction that has not been demonstrated, although it is certainly happening, is that marine protected areas would produce larvae and juveniles that can replenish the adults being fished out in both natal reef sites and far away reefs.

This larval spillover termed recruitment spillover is one hidden benefit of no-take marine reserves.

Let me go back briefly to our experience in the past when only few people realized the need for marine protected areas. I must remind our readers that the idea of marine protected areas originated from a private scientific organization, hence, less constrained by government bureaucratic procedures and open to innovative ideas and actions.

In our work, we adopted the strategy of local community involvement in coastal resource management, often referred to as community-based resource management.

Although this approach tends to be slow because it requires community organization that facilitates full community participation and involvement, in the long run, it is more advantageous compared to centralized approaches that have been shown to be ineffective in the country.

One result of the community approach is that in the selection of protected sites to be established, too often the sites agreed to be protected were really not the best sites, as recommended by theoretical marine reserve experts, because these sites were decided on the basis of compromise in regard to the area of the site and the quality of biodiversity and fishery resources.

From the standpoint of local communities, I can understand this behavior, which amounts to reserving the best sites for fishing.

Yet, even with this limitation, our research carried on at SUAKCREM indicates a substantial larval recruitment that could sustain over time the marine resources in the Bohol Sea, where there are at present more than 60 marine reserves maintained by local communities.

In brief, there are benefits of fully-protected marine reserves beyond the obvious benefits that are easily seen or observed. This is the reason why I have been steadfast in suggesting that the establishment of community-based no-take marine reserves is the way to go forward to ensure the conservation of our marine resources.

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